Every day is a good day for a foodie on the East End of Long Island, but some days are especially rich in flavor. On Saturday I went to the Sag Harbor Farmers Market to load up on goodies as usual. Bette Lacina at Dale & Bette’s Farm stand talked me into buying some local bamboo. It’s really great and only in season for a few weeks each year. I also arranged to buy a big box of local rhubarb from Bette, but when I went back at the end of the market to pick it up, she’d already sold the whole box to Deborah Gorman of Gourmet Sorbet. That was no problem—I stopped by her farm for another box that afternoon, so my rhubarb was even fresher than Chef Deborah’s. (Ha!)
While I was still at the farmers market, there appeared a sort of foodie apparition: Diana Kennedy, the grand dame of cookbookery best known for her groundbreaking The Cuisines of Mexico! Holy mole! She was wonderfully kind and only too pleased to talk about food and recipes and ingredients. I made arrangements to drop by her friend’s house, where she’s staying, to get my copy of Cuisines signed.
I can’t wait!
I thought I’d had The Ultimate Rhubarb Adventure two years ago when I got to pick the last of the stalks from the Foster Farm in Sagaponack. It filled up about five paper grocery bags and my backseat. But Saturday was A Very Special Rhubarb Day. What is it about rhubarb? It’s tart, it’s a harbinger of summer and it goes with almost everything. Plus it’s reliable. Our great-grandparents called it “pie plant.” Why don’t more Americans love rhubarb? Maybe it’s the same reason that some people sit and listen to the beautiful organ postlude at the end of a church service while others try to shout over it. It takes a little effort to appreciate. It takes two to three years for rhubarb plants to mature in the garden. It’s not all sweetness. It’s much more interesting than sweet.
I like to mix rhubarb with local strawberries for jam and for pies. I had that in mind, as well as a nifty recipe I’d spotted in New York magazine last month from Daniel Boulud’s new cookbook. It wasn’t quite clear what his “Mixed Greens with Rhubarb” was for, but cooking down a pound of rhubarb with two pounds of greens and a pound of leeks is my idea of a great afternoon.
Driving back home from Bette & Dale’s Farm, I spotted an estate sale on Main Street. Very old house, garden stuff out front, many cars. I cracked the windows so my produce could breathe and pulled over.
Wow! Nothing in that house had changed in a good 80 years, someone’s lifetime. There was some amazing antique furniture and art prints left, but I made a beeline to the kitchen. There, lined up along a windowsill, were four old canning jars, an Anchor Hocking jam jar with its tin lid intact and a fluted French jam jar! Hell yes, I could carry all that in one arm as I climbed up to the attic! I didn’t find anything else I couldn’t live without in the house, but I took a second look at the antique concrete planter in front of the house and then pulled the classic, “Can I give you 50 bucks for the planter with these old jars?” The cashier went for it. Cha-ching! With a burst of purchaser’s adrenaline, I tossed that hefty planter into my car.
I made jams, I made pie, and as I was making the Mixed Greens with Rhubarb I remembered that chefs have staffs to do a lot of the work. Do you know how many leeks are in a pound? Unless they’re the size of baseball bats, MANY. Oh well, my house now smells like every form of delish rhubarb known to man. Maybe I’ll finally plant some of my own in that antique planter…